Saturday, June 17, 2017

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

I'm not reviewing the book, neither writing a blurb for it. I'm expressing my experience of this deeply humane saga.

I've read all Frederik Backman's book and was looking forward to this latest offering. As usual it was packed with emotions, strong characters and passion. 

This time around it was a small town with a passion for ice hockey and a community who desperately needed to win the season in the interest of the future. 

Beartown did not have tourism, high-tech or mine industries; it only had darkness, cold and unemployment. It was a town where wild animals barely endure but where the people were tough enough to overcome the challenges. The high school's ice hockey team was their only claim to possible fame and future fortunes. Nobody lived in that town, everybody just survived it. The rules by which the community was built determined that all inhabitants must play by the rules, work hard, take the knocks, don't complain, keep your mouth shut. And so it was for generations.

It was the end of the season with the semi-finals looming. Emotions ran high, winning was everything, the social dynamics sped out of control and the ice hockey club's motto, "Culture, Values, Community", shuddered against the walls of the club offices and ice rink. 

The players understood their trainers. If you apply enough pressure to coal, it becomes diamonds. The club had an unpleasant culture of silence, the sort of thing you find among soldiers and criminals.

... Silence always goes hand in hand with shame. 

But then: the unthinkable happened and the silence was broken, defied, challenged, by an event that rocked the town. A whole community had to test and re-evaluate their own mores and values as well as the noble intentions they had for their children. Nobody could escape the test of loyalty... 

Some quotes from the book:

Water expands when it freezes; you need to know that if you build a house in Beartown. In the summer the rain seeps into the cracks in the bricks, then when the temperature slips below zero the moisture freezes to ice, and the bricks break. She will remember that that’s how it felt to grow up as the little sister of a dead big brother. A childhood that was one long, desperate attempt not to be liquid, not to seek out the cracks in your parents.

Water: If you let it make its way too far in, it can freeze into ice and break your heart.

There are few words that are harder to explain than “loyalty.” It’s always regarded as a positive characteristic, because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.

“Never trust people who don’t have something in their lives that they love beyond all reason.” Her mom loves a man who loves a place that loves a game. This is a hockey town, and there are plenty of things you can say about those, but at least they’re predictable. You know what to expect if you live here. Day after day after day.

Beartown by Backman differs hugely from his previous books in that it moved away from the Swedish idiom and adapted a North American 'feel'. The Swedish authenticity is absent. I can only assume that the prose was adapted, stream-lined, for a much bigger American audience, with a touch of popular drama, action and excitement brought in to cater for this particular audience. The editors changed.

However, Beartown is an excellent story written by a skillful author. The town is still Swedish. The setting still the dark wonderland of the Swedish winter. A really thought-provoking, heart-stopping tale. 

A Man Called Ove was, and still is, by far my favorite Backman book. In fact, it is still one of my all-time favorite reads. It was written for a different audience with different characters to serve the tale and presented an honesty which made it a superb and highly popular read. 

The 'earthliness' and charm in A Man Called Ove, and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry and Britt-Marie Was Here have gone. The dry and subtle humor left with it. In its place a political correctness moved in with a politeness that will be more acceptable and soothing to a different audience. The previous books were character driven. This book is action-driven. The Beartown characters were interesting, strong, passionate about life, family, community and self interests. They were honest, dishonest and multi-faceted. Some were heartwarming and other heartbreaking. It ripped my heart out.

Be that as it may, I loved Beartown too. Not in love with it. Just loved it. However, it still gets another well-deserved five-star rating. Thankfully Frederik Backman was still present. 

A fantastic read. RECOMMENDED for sure!


New York Times bestseller • The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.

“You’ll love this engrossing novel.” —People

“Backman is a masterful writer, his characters familiar yet distinct, flawed yet heroic....There are scenes that bring tears, scenes of gut-wrenching despair, and moments of sly humor....A thoroughly empathetic examination of the fragile human spirit.” —Kirkus Reviews

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called OveMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s SorryBritt-Marie Was HereBeartown, as well as a novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer. His books are published in more than thirty-five countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children. Beartown is his latest novel.

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